Plaid must become more than just the safe option

Arfon MP Hywel Williams, pictured here with former Caernarfon MP Dafydd Wigley (left), came within fewer than a hundred votes of defeat. Picture: Plaid Cymru Arfon.


Dafydd Trystan, the former chairman of Plaid Cymru, says that the challenges facing the party are more complex than they appear…

The narrow victories in Ceredigion and Arfon were a ‘get out of jail free card’ for Plaid Cymru.

While voters were lost across the country, the seat tally, which is after all what counts in a general election, yielded the best results since 2001.

There is a danger therefore that the Party will sit back, breathe a huge sigh of relief and carry on.

I’d suggest to do that would be a failure to address a significant weakness that has been laid bare by the falling vote share of the 2017 election.

There has already been robust debate about Plaid’s performance at the General Election – here and elsewhere.

I do fear, however, that there may be a temptation to seek simple answers to the strategic dilemmas facing the party when those challenges may be more complex than they appear at first.

In many ways the past decade and more has been one of significant progress for Plaid.

We know from regular polling in Wales that Plaid as a party is well regarded. We also know that Leanne Wood, Plaid’s leader, is particularly well regarded and generally, polls personal ratings that are better than the Party.

We’ve also seen Plaid gain more coverage in UK General Elections than at any time in its history.

But the party’s electoral performance has been at best patchy because people who are well disposed to the party and its leader don’t routinely vote Plaid.

No magic pill

And herein for me lies the key weakness. Plaid’s relative popularity means that it is a safe option for those wishing to lend a vote if their normal choice has in some way behaved poorly.

There have been plenty of examples at both local and national levels where other parties have handled issues badly (or indeed entire elections) and Plaid has taken advantage.

But this success is almost entirely context-dependent.

In order to become a party of government and to realise its long-held ambitions for Wales, Plaid must address this strategic challenge over the next few years.

A number of commentators have already suggested (simplistic) approaches e.g. having nothing to do with Labour (ever), changing the party leader, campaigning hard for Welsh independence.

The difficulty I have with each of these prescriptions is that there is little evidence to suggest that any of these are a magic pill that will cure Plaid’s electoral ills.

Indeed, what evidence there is suggests that some of these approaches could be counter-productive.

The challenge is made all the more complex by the political positioning of the parties.

With Tony Blair in charge of the Labour Party, a consistent left/centre-left approach from Plaid to Welsh politics, chimed with the Welsh electorate.

It is far from clear that ‘Plaid are a way to support Corbyn’s policies’ is in any way a sensible strategy faced with a left-wing Labour leader in the UK and a small ‘n’ nationalist Labour leader in Wales.

Strong foundations

So what is to be done? The first step is to seek to reach a consensus as to the challenges facing the party. Asking the right questions is a good start.

On the answers I’m less clear. The development of key headline policies that can and should be promoted over the next few years would be a start.

How would Plaid improve education in Wales? Or the Health Service? Or have a more robust approach to protecting our environment?

Can anyone name a signature Plaid Westminster election policy? Or a Local Government pledge from a little over a month ago?

More urgent I’d suggest is developing the vision of Plaid councils in action.

Plaid now leads councils spanning most of the West. With apologies to the Leaders of those councils – as I know how difficult these matters are, but what can we say definitively that those four councils will do differently from the neighbouring Labour and Independent-run councils?

I know they will be well run – each of the leaders have significant ability and experience. But what will residents be able to say clearly is different, because it’s a Plaid council?

Plaid has the opportunity in the next few years to move to a higher level of electoral success, based on the foundations that are in place.

But, if the last elections show us anything those foundations are not yet strong enough to withstand a big storm.

With Hywel Williams’ victory in Arfon and Ben Lake’s stunning success in Ceredigion, there is now a window of opportunity to strengthen the foundations.

This is a challenge and a significant task, but one that cannot be ignored, nor can it be minimised. We live in (very) interesting times.

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  1. differentiation is the key in most situations. Stop banging on about “We is more Socialist than them in Labour ” people know that already and most are not really interested. They are more interested in lines of attack by criticism – “we do this…… better, and evidence is ….”.

    Also pick up on ” What we want to do in terms of improved service, policy changes and how much these things cost ……. ” and go on to describe how Labour at Y Cynulliad inhibits/ prevents such “good works” being done. Labour has a track record of chucking money down the drain – again give examples such as ill judged land and property sales, which diverts funds away from useful services.

    It will need to be in part a hatchet job but you expect that if you want to remove the party in power as they won’t say “oh, well reasoned, perhaps we’ll stand aside and give you guys a crack “!.

  2. Dafydd thomas

    You ask..”How would Plaid improve education? or the Health service.” Can’t you see the elephant in the room…if 4 to 5 million elderly immigrants moved into England their health service would be swamped and there would be uproar. The exact equivalent of this is happening in Cymru and the labour government is financially shoring up NHS Wales at the cost of the education of our school children for over a decade. This labour government is planning on a third of our population being elderly while its expected to be less than a quarter in England. So as an economist I would suggest stop incentivising elderly English immigration. These immigrants should be obliged to make their own private arrangement for their health requirements when they arrive here, or stay in England where the population has proportionally much less elderly and they can be treated for free. Another option would be to take full control of our border (independence) and control who enters, in the same way as the English Labour Party wants for England. The other option is carry on as we are, turn Wales into a departure lounge for retired English immigrants and turn our economy and country into something of a graveyard.

  3. Saying what Plaid Cymru would do better than rival parties appears to be key, and an essential suggestion. I would wager that doing so would have made no difference in the recent Westminster election, but would do so at an Assembly election. The only standout policy from Plaid Cymru in recent memory has been to recruit thousands of doctors, and to tax sugary drinks. These are good proposals but had no relevance to a Westminster election where the voter decision was whether to get Theresa May out or not.

  4. ‘it is far from clear that ‘Plaid are a way to support Corbyn’s policies’ is in any way a sensible strategy faced with a left-wing Labour leader in the UK and a small ‘n’ nationalist Labour leader in Wales.’

    this sentiment I saw in a tweet in Leanne’s name and then others followed suit. I personally agreed with the BBC Vaughan Roderick’s analysis, when he said we cannot out socialist Corbyn’s Labour and that has been difficult for Plaid in this election.

    I think there was too much focus on other parties and not our own unique policies/ distinctiveness. If we are always talking negatively about the opposition, who is talking positively about us?

  5. Dafydd Thomas

    What happened to the comment I sent in.

  6. I agree most of the debate has been “Pick one of have nothing to do with Labour/change leader/focus on independence” and it’s maddening because any of those strategies are going to lose one or more segements of an already small vote.

    Working from the ground up at Council level might in fact turn out to be the viable alternative. It’s not as big and flashy as the gestures above but perhaps that’s good?

  7. I really do fee that Plaid have to make a strong case for independence now. If not, what is the point? This s the question being asked within Plaid Cymru’s heart lands. 20 years of devolution has made very little difference to the people especially in North Wales. Plaid have policies on health social care, education and energy. They are very similar to Labour’s policies. The policy that is missing is the one on independence. This s our USP. Currently the leadership seems talks down the prospect as much as possible so not to trouble the waters or scare people. Plaid councils in my experience cannot support their own national policy on renewable energy.

  8. HERE’S A QUICK IDEA – Plaid Cymru need to relentless grab headlines by pushing a focused campaign for new devolved powers…in easy simple language

    “We want the police devolved”………….”WE NEED THE JOB CENTRE DEVOLVED AWAY FROM WOLVERHAMPTON” – FOR GOOD REASONS….which there are

    With independence support at 36% and Plaid down to 10-20% depending on which election……….I dont we can blame ppl pushing independence for losing votes………….its much more complex as you say….although there are a portion of ppl who despise Self rule for Wales and avoid Plaid Cymru like the Plague!

  9. Anne Greagsby

    I agree with Dafydd Trystan. Note that in Scotland, for the first time since the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote system, the SNP won majority control of 2 councils, from no overall control. SNP in 2017 elections have the most cllrs and have ended up with more councillors than in 2012 . Why arent we making louder demands for PR in local government. We can learn from the SDP. Many Plaid Cymru members are ashamed of ‘coming out’ as members and see their membership as part of an elite talking shop. Where is the passion and the activists? Middle-class men are over represented and intolerant of working class peoples participation. The way to succeed is from the bottom up. If we want to achieve the independence we dream of then it can only be through Plaid Cymru, I support YES Cymru and there is a place for that but it is only through achieving power we will make the progress towards greater devolution and eventually Independence, So all you armchair warriors rise up and get out on the street campaigning for Plaid.

  10. Anne Greagsby

    FFS doesnt help….BBC News – Plaid Cymru Conwy leader defies party on Tory coalition

  11. Rhisiart Williams.

    The reason that Plaid does not gain more seats, in my opinion is because it says its all inclusive but people feel not for local people, they feel they are out in the cold when it comes to being important. To my mind if you are a refugee and your live would end in your own country then we would welcome them to our communities. When you have economic migrants that are you are competing with local people for jobs and houses,. Labour spout socialist soundbites but as we all know King Carwyn is a Blairite, so he does not want them to live all over Cymru instead they end up in the poorer area’s. So when you say defend Wales they in the poor social-economic area’s don’t think you are defending them.

  12. This site is a great idea, but I thought initially that it was meant to be about news and other interests as well. I can’t help thinking it will run out of puff if it becomes one article after the next discussing only issues about plaid, independence and then more about plaid and independence.

    Intetesting and important as these things are it isn’t going to reach out to more than the already committed.

    Not wanting to be negative, because it hasn’t got the resources to do live news updates etc and stir interest through controversial news scoops, but it does seem to need a bit of variety and insight to take it further.

    Maybe some journalist students could help, while trying to cut their teeth for their CVs?.

    I wouldn’t have the foggiest how to help myself, but there must be a way of tapping into some exuberant young talent with perhaps interest in music, sports, the arts, travel, fashion, films, technology etc etc, just to round things off a bit???

  13. What is the point of Plaid – if it doesn’t campaign for Independence? We might as well join the Welsh branches of the London parties and call it a day. Ever since I joined the party 20 years ago – there has always been a reluctance to use the “I” word. The EU was a crutch for many years – Inspiring speeches about Wales aspiring to become an EU region Lombardy or baden wurtemburg in a second tier of the European Parliament. Wow. The people have kicked that crutch away now and it looks like Plaid is exposed. We have never wanted independence have we? This is the fundamental weakness of Welsh nationalism – It is predominantly cultural – It doesn’t want to face up to the bread and butter issues. Will we ever see a Welsh State? – It is the only reason I am in Plaid.

  14. “I do fear, however, that there may be a temptation to seek simple answers to the strategic dilemmas facing the party when those challenges may be more complex than they appear at first.”

    Don’t dismiss simple answers to a complex question. It is often the case that an amalgam of simple answers is the answer to a conundrum. Reforming the leadership structure, being a more aggressive about white flight and costa geriatrica colonialism, local activism, calling out Labour bullshit, making the case for independence, the effect of extraction of our resources, etc etc etc might not individually be the Cymdeithas yr Iaith “Yr Unig Ateb”. But sticking them all in the mix might be the answer to the complex question!

  15. Good points. We’ve survived this tsunami; how do we survive the next?

    1. ‘vote for what you believe’: make Plaid Cymru attractive to voters, rather than running after them. Consistent values and voice then emerge more clearly.
    2. Plaid Cymru = Democratic Party of Wales: make civic life democratic i.e. government by the people: local authority values (USP) and independence rise logically as a consequence of that approach; be more specific about solutions (‘independence’ is a meaningless word because of its ambivalence – it means too many different things); help the voter picture a goal worth having; solutions = policies
    3. in general but especially at election time, Plaid Cymru cannot compete with London based parties for 24/7 coverage: needs to be countered by long term grassroots activism / action = practical broad based relevant policies and wider participation
    4. we all got it wrong for GE17 (inc. Labour)
    5. Labour’s priority has been to re-establish the Westminster duopoly – realised now, though it may be shortlived: this is bad for democracy (2 above) – we need STV pronto = policy
    6. Plaid Cymru is ‘internationalist’: “stop the world we want to get on” = policy
    7. Plaid Cymru is a political movement aimed at making our country confident, democratic, empowered, equitable, just, prosperous (its not a football team, cultural association, civic forum, debating society, campaigning group etc.) = vision

    In places, we may have lost the ballot, but it doesn’t make us wrong.

  16. Gillian Jones

    Entirely agree with Dafydd Thomas! I live in a market town and it is being swamped by elderly English immigrants. Local youngsters are priced out of the housing market. Second homes abound and any new builds snapped up by Enlish investors. A few weeks ago I was the only Welsh person waiting in a crowded surgery!

  17. Dafydd Thomas

    I sympathise with Gillian Jones, but one of the keys to stopping this is housing. The housing inspectorate guided from England is planning for housing in Cymru for the needs of England. If all new houses were built with a local (Wales) occupancy requirement as in parts of England we would then see how many houses are required for our needs here in Wales. Stop incentivising elderly English immigrants, resulting in an improved health service, and resources freed up so that our schoolchildren would have as much spent on them as in England, with cheaper houses for our youg families.

  18. “A number of commentators have already suggested (simplistic) approaches”

    Don’t dismiss simplistic approaches. The answers to complex problems are often an amalgam of simple answers rather than a single complex one.

    One of my simplistic answers, that I think should be thrown into the mix, is that the SNP & Plaid Cymru support English Nationalism.

    When we oppose Britain we are assumed to be anti-English, rather than opposed to the British state. We actually support, by default, a vibrant, successful and Independent England, the Unionists don’t! We should throw the Unionists anti-Englishness back in their face at every opportunity. Leanne Wood & Nicola Sturgeon support English Independence; Theresa May & Jeremy Corbyn don’t May & corbyn are the “anti-English”!

    • Sibrydionmawr

      Not sure that English nationalism actually needs our support. It’s big enough, and certainly ugly enough to look after itself. And besides, we have enough to do just looking out for ourselves.

      And, at the end of the day, isn’t it about time we stopped giving a damn what the ‘Bloody Sais’ think about us – for too long we’ve adopted this parchus position that has hamstrung us because we’re worrying too much about what the English will think of us. About time we called time on the Blue Books effect, eh?

  19. Keith Parry

    If Plaid carries on doing the same it will get the same result or worse
    . Perhaps there needs to be something similar to ” Labour for independence” in Plaid. “Plaid for independence!”.

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